Customized blends of polypropylene for extrusion based additive manufacturing
Filament-based material extrusion (MatEx) additive manufacturing has garnered great interest due to its simplicity, customizability, and cost-effectiveness. However, MatEx of semicrystalline polymers is still largely relegated to prototyping applications. Major issues involving volumetric shrinkage and warpage of the printed parts must be addressed in order to employ them for printing functional parts. Moreover, the crystallization behavior and rheology of the polymer are dependent on the MatEx processing conditions. In the current work, the printability of blends of isotactic polypropylene with a soft, low crystallinity propylene based homopolymer is evaluated. Addition of the homopolymer resulted in an increase in the crystallization window of the blends by similar to 6 degrees C that had a profound impact on the interlayer adhesion and residual stress state. The shear-dependent melt flow behavior inside the printing nozzle as well as the interlayer chain diffusion and interlayer welding on the print bed were investigated. Rheological characterizations also indicate sufficient dispersion and miscibility of the homopolymer in the neat polypropylene matrix. The incorporation of the homopolymer as an additive significantly improved the dimensional accuracy of the printed parts through better dissipation of the entrapped residual stresses during MatEx. Moreover, the degree of mechanical anisotropy of the parts was significantly lower than that obtained using many 3D printable grade polymers. The findings from this study can be leveraged in toolpath planning, process parameter optimization, and new feedstock development, highlighting current limitations as well as providing valuable insights into necessary processing modifications in order to enable MatEx of next generation semicrystalline polymers.